Considering what the Federals had done to her and hers, Bertha Evans felt that she had kept her feelings about them remarkably impersonal. Although they had invaded her country, crippled her brother, killed her fiance, stolen most of her family's property with that horrid "Emancipation Proclamation," and were occupying Twin Oaks at that very minute, she could express her opinions of them without spitting. And that was more than most of her friends and elders could do.
Her personal hatred was reserved for Lieutenant Charles Larson, Fifth New York Dragoons. His squadron was occupying her family's barn. What was worse, instead of seeing what an oppressor he was, he acted as if he thought of himself as a gentleman. He lifted his hat every time he saw her and complimented her just as if they were social equals.
Then the sad news came from Durham. Johnston had surrendered to the Yankees. When her mind was still reeling from that news, Larson passed by and tipped his hat again. This time she did spit.
"You need not do that," he said. "We are no longer enemies."
"You Yankees can laugh all you want about Johnston. Lee is going to go north any day now. Let us see how you feel about your homes being treated the way ours were -- the way you are treating Twin Oaks right this minute."
"You have not heard then?"
"The Army of Northern Virginia surrendered as well. Lee seems to have surrendered before Johnston did, but the news took a little time getting here. Now, that your heroes have seen the light, why don't you? It is not pleasant having a pretty girl spit every time she sees me."
She was so shocked she turned her back and hurried off before he could see the tears on her eyes. His claim must be false! It was true, though. Everybody was talking about it the next day. If only there was something she could do. When all those important men had failed, what could an unimportant woman do?
And then she realized that there was something she could do. Not about the entire situation of the Confederacy; Lincoln and even Sherman were too far away. But Lieutenant Larson was close, and he was vulnerable. If she stopped thinking of being a woman as a weakness, he was more vulnerable to her than he was to any man. Now all she had to do was to get him away from his troops.
That was one problem; getting a weapon was another. This was unlike the flirtations she had seen before the war. It was insufficient to make him look like a fool; he already looked like a fool. She needed to shoot him and shoot him far enough away that none of his squadron would hear. She needed a weapon, and there were none left on Twin Oaks. When she was young, there were hunters all around the plantation. Nowadays, the only gunfire was from combat, and the Yankees were likely to investigate those sounds. Maybe she could use a knife. That way, she would not need to go so far.
Then she shook herself. She had no weapon; she even had no horse left. She had none. Larson had both. He could provide the weapon for his own destruction, and the transportation to the place where it could be discharged without bringing his troops down on her. All she had to do was to be nice to him.
All? Being nice to Charles Larson would be the hardest job of her life. Still, Zach -- her fiance -- had given his life for his country; John -- her brother -- had given his ability to walk for his country. She could sacrifice as well.
She started off slowly. Larson, she called him 'Charles' as he asked her to, warmed up immediately. She could not tell whether her delay was caution to avoid his suspicion or reluctance to go further. Finally, he asked, "May I call you Bertha?"
"Well, Charles. You might as well. Not in front of my family, though. They might not approve."
"Certainly. And, Bertha, I shall always refer to you as 'Miss Evans' to my men."
"Thank you, Charles."
And, since they were hiding their relationship from her family and his men, her response to his first effort at a kiss was not the slap it deserved. Instead, she pushed him away. "Somebody might see," she said.
With her family in the house, his men in the barn, and darkies still living in the cabins, there was always somebody who might see. After a week, she led him down by the brook.
His kiss was ardent, and -- to her surprise -- as exciting as Zach's had been. Well, of course her blood was racing; she was beginning a dangerous strategy for her revenge.
Still, she complained about the chance of being overseen. The brook was not that far away from the house and the barn. "Anywhere I can walk, others can walk. My mare died at Chancellorsville, as far as I can figure out. With her died any chance of my having privacy."
And he suggested her riding behind him. "I can't mount your horse in front of everybody," she said. "People would talk. My mother would forbid it, and your men would gossip."
He turned from her then, and started walking among the trees. For a moment, she thought he was accepting her 'no.' Things were hard on a girl. She had to say 'no, ' and men were likely to think she meant 'no.' Especially if the men were stupid, or Yankee. And Charles was both.
"Could you walk up here?" Charles asked. He pointed to a fallen tree which slanted up from ground level.
A smart girl knows when to be stupid. "People could still see. They would be even more likely to."
So he explained how she could get on the horse behind him by standing at the appropriate height on the tree. Now it was his idea.
"I shall try. But you must tell nobody that I'm going with you."
"Oh. I would never!"
With a little experimenting, they both fit on the horse the next day. Charles was in the saddle, and she sat sideways behind him with her legs dangling over the offside of the horse's rump. Even at a walking pace, it was a chancy and uncomfortable seat. She had to hold onto Charles. Since she did not want to be seen, they had to avoid the roads and fields. They traveled through the woods.
She was conscious throughout the ride of his revolver in its holster a few inches from her hip. She had fired several rifles and Zach's revolver twice. He had cocked it for her, but she knew how to do that. If Charles stopped the horse for a moment, she could grab his revolver and shoot him. She would need to shoot him in the back, but he was merely a Yankee. And, like that, she would get blood on her. She would have to burn dress, and could not afford to burn this one. This plan had more difficulties than she had thought.
She was also uncomfortably conscious of Charles' hard body inside her arms and against her side. After a little while, Charles slowed the horse even more. He started riding close to fallen trees. "I didn't think of this," he said. "It is all very well to get you out here, but we have to get you back, too. Do you think you could use that tree?"
Really, it looked rather uncertain. Not that she was anxious to get down and allow him to kiss her again. "I don't think so."
A little while later, though, they came to a tree that she could not deny looked usable. She slid off the rump of the horse and, holding one hand on Charles and one hand on a branch, stood up. While Charles rode off six yards to dismount and tie his horse where it could graze, she gingerly climbed down.
He swept her into a hug. His kiss was hot and insistent. Well, she needed a reason to ride out this far. And chaste kisses would not do for a reason. She cooperated with the kiss. Her heart was beating faster and her nipples were hardening against his chest. Let him think it was the excitement of his kisses rather than the idea that she had embarked on her own private war.
When his hand brushed down her back to her seat, though, she pushed it away. He accepted that. A tight hug, hungry kisses, his body against hers, that she would allow. Parts of her were private, though, and she would not allow him to put his hands there.
She lost track of time. The sun showed late afternoon when she left his embrace. "I need to get back," she said.
"True," he admitted. "Unfortunate but true. Can we meet in the same place tomorrow?"
"Not tomorrow." The pattern of previous flirtations agreed with her need to prepare for her coming battle. Never give them what they want. "I have duties, and I have been neglecting them. Perhaps the day after tomorrow."
"Noon at the tree?"
"Noon is too early. An hour after noon, perhaps. My mother takes a nap during the heat of the day after dinner."
"I will be waiting at the tree an hour after noon."
He kissed her once lightly before helping her up the slant of the tree. Then he fetched his horse and she got on it again. She clutched him as the horse ambled back the way they had come. It was policy. The closer she hugged him, the less he would think; the more evident her dependency on his support, the harder it would be for him to imagine her riding back after shooting him. It was support. This perch was really quite unsatisfactory. It was also a comfort. He might be an enemy, but he was warm in her grasp.
They got back to the first tree. He tipped his hat and rode off. She got back to the house. Her mother complained a little about her shirking her chores, but suspected only laziness. The next day, she had to do better. And she had planning to do after supper.
.... There is more of this story ...